(Title Image: www.local-transport-projects.co.uk)
- Notes lowest levels of physical activity, illegally high levels of air pollution, road congestion (which costs the Welsh economy £2billion annually) and falling levels of walking and cycling could be addressed if the Active Travel Act 2013 was effectively implemented.
- Calls on the Welsh Government to refresh its active travel strategy including ambitious targets and a detailed plan for long term investment in infrastructure.
Laudable aims not being delivered
Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) kicked things off by saying that, while Wales had some far-reaching laws, when it comes to the Active Travel Act there’s been a noticeable gap between aims and delivery.
The simple act of walking and/or cycling has a beneficial impact as Wales faces major public health issues like low levels of physical activity and rising obesity. Despite the Active Travel Act, walking and cycling rates in Wales were falling:
“….newly compiled active travel figures produced to monitor the Active Travel Act continue to show disappointing results. 61% of adults walked at least once a week….this poor figure has fallen from 66% in 2013-14. 44% of children actively travel to primary school. 34% to secondary school. This was a slight reduction from 50% to primary school in 2013-14. Cycling to school is relatively rare, with fewer than 1% cycling to school on a typical day.”
– Huw Irranca-Davies AM
Huw repeated long-standing calls for an increase in per-head spending on walking and cycling from £10-per-head spent in Wales now to between £17-20-per-head.
Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) repeated the findings of his Economy & Infrastructure Committee’s report on the Active Travel Act which was published last year and debated last September. He asked for an update on what’s being done since then.
No change is not an option
Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South West Wales) offered some medical pointers:
“It (cholesterol lowering) requires 6×30 minutes sessions of brisk exercise per week. You can be the very epitome of Geraint Thomas in Huw Irranca-Davies and cycling all the way to Maesteg and back or whatever, but it doesn’t have to be that way….. It can be a brisk walk. You could do your 10,000 steps a day in this Senedd building….But we do need the additional infrastructure to make walking easier around Wales.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM
Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) – who cycles to the Senedd most days – found exercise beneficial to her own health. However, six schools in her constituency endure illegal air pollution levels. A survey by Sustrans in 2010 found that while half of children wanted to cycle to school, only 4% were allowed to – usually because of parents’ circular arguments about traffic (“traffic is dangerous, so I’ll drive you”).
Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) raised safety concerns, particularly for women and girls using isolated cycle lanes, while Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) called for better integration between active travel and public transport:
“….at the bottom of Hafodyrynys Hill (one of the most polluted roads in Wales) is the former site of Crumlin railway station….and if we were able to transform and reopen the station here, it would be an ideal and unique opportunity to alleviate pollution in a very congested area, if people were able to walk or cycle straight to the station, meeting many of our strategic well-being and active travel goals in one fell swoop.”
– Rhianon Passmore AM
“We must put in place solid foundations”
Deputy Minister for Economy & Transport, Lee Waters (Lab, Llanelli) – who was one of the driving forces behind the Active Travel Act in a previous role at Sustrans – said that while the Act was ambitious it needed to be put on solid foundations.
He cited the low number of bids by local authorities for the latest round of active travel funding – £6million worth of bids for a £5million pot – as a sign that councils either lack expertise or aren’t taking it seriously enough.
“I think the maps submitted by local authorities to deliver their networks are not good enough. There are some exceptions but, overall, the quality is not high….I intend to look afresh at that for the next round of submissions in 2021, to start with consultation – because if a council can only inspire 20 people to take part in a consultation on their network plans, they’re going to find it difficult to inspire me to invest millions of pounds in it.”
– Deputy Minister for Economy & Transport, Lee Waters AM
The motion was carried unanimously.